design thinkers


SLAM’s Sports Architecture Practice opened three “edge of your seat” multi-purpose arenas between 2022-2024 – each tailored to the uses, goals, and fan culture of those programs. The arenas range in size and include a 7,500-seat new Convocation Center at Georgia State University, a 3,600-seat arena renovation at SUNY Albany, and a 2,000-seat arena renovation at Sacred Heart University. These schools hail from three different conferences, carried three different budgets, and had three unique goals and objectives. The commonality was that all three focused on better engagement of their fans and production of revenue to grow their programs and develop their student athletes.

SLAM’s Sports Designer, Jacob Vagts, expressed these key considerations during the design process, “Regardless of athletic conference or project budget, it’s important to understand the fan’s perspective attending an event at the arena. After a student-athlete’s performance, the fan experience is vital to the success of a project. We view the design from a fan’s perspective to make certain the experience is spectacular from the door, all the way to the event floor.”

The top 5 Do’s for designing mid-size arenas include:

  1. IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE. Fans love to be close to the action. Whenever possible, locate fan circulation behind the seating bowl, moving the seats closer to improve sightlines. At Sacred Heart’s Pitt Center, the existing mezzanine will be transformed into a VIP area for an elevated fan experience with access to their seats. The reconfigured 4-sided bowl brings fans closer to the action, changing the character and elevating the game time energy. As Jacob says, “the fan experience starts before they’re in their seat. It’s essential to recognize the fan’s perspective – concessions, concourses, restrooms, ADA access, equitable seating, entries, ticketing – every step along the way to the event. Beyond these intentional design moves focused on fans, experiential graphics can really punctuate moments and interactions and provide social media opportunities.”

2.  REVENUE GENERATION. During the design and renovation of UAlbany’s Broadview Center, the design team had to stay “within the box” to capture new premium areas. By rotating the court and expanding the concourse, the team created a new bowl configuration with four corner clubs, loges, and a new courtside club. New points of sale for mobile concessions were also added along the expanded concourse. These new revenue-generating amenities will drive dollars back into the program while also providing opportunities to engage sponsors and corporate partners.

3. DESIGN FOR DEDICATED OR SHARED USE. Not all events are created equal. Some events, like concerts, have bigger facility needs – rigging, AV, power requirements, access to the event floor, easy to navigate wayfinding for new building users, storage, removeable flooring – all must be planned for in advance to be able to capitalize on the arena’s potential. Georgia State’s Convocation Center was designed to host campus events, convocations, career fairs, eSports, basketball, volleyball, concerts, and many other community events. The court and surrounding spaces not only work well for the “primary” tenant’s practice and gameday events, but also flex to accommodate different capacities and user groups.

Marc Clear, Sports National Market Leader and Principal, summarized these needs, “Flexibility and adaptability were critical from the very beginning. While Men’s & Women’s’ Basketball games may be the venue’s primary use, at the end of each day they are just two users among many that benefit from the new facility. Our design challenge was to get as many uses out of each space as possible. A concourse level classroom is also a flexible club or pair of suites. A court level club is also a post-game press conference room, 2V2 eSports room, and a graduation platform party room. The permanent horseshoe upper bowl and retractable lower bowl provide every seat in the venue with a great view of the stage setup for a concert or graduation.”

4. STRATEGICALLY LOCATED TEAM SPACES. The proximity of the team locker rooms and player amenities to the court is a main driver for the design of these spaces. More efficient adjacencies allow the home team to have more time deliberating and strategizing as a team, as well as access to sports medicine and recovery. A 5-minute walk during halftime to the team’s locker room significantly cuts into the time for a coach to address the team. Every second counts.

5. ENGAGE THE SITE, NO TWO ARE THE SAME. Arenas are large dynamic buildings. It’s important to take advantage of the nuances of your specific site. A site with significant topography can present an opportunity to optimize fan entry at an upper concourse and separate team/service entry at a lower court level. The days of venues surrounded by a sea of surface parking are also gone with a push to weave these facilities into surrounding campus fabric or mixed-use development that can improve the gameday experience for fans. It’s important to consider opportunities during design and financing to add in a year-round use and fan access, such as a year-round training table that doubles as a club. Driving increased fan traffic to the facility improves the viability and vibrancy of these complex and wonderful places.
These venues are all about the fans; SLAM is proving inventive design can make arenas even more exciting, memorable, useful, and financially successful.

Fans at Clemson and Tennessee can look forward to new SLAM-designed basketball facilities at Thompson-Boling Arena and Littlejohn Coliseum.


Link to GSU’s Convocation Center on Athletic Business